Assessment: an essential part of teaching and learning
Assessment is an essential element of the teaching and learning process. One of its principal purposes is to provide the teacher with continuous detailed information about children’s development, their knowledge, their grasp of concepts and their mastery of skills. This in turn leads to a greater understanding of the children and their needs and can help the teacher to design appropriate learning activities that will enable them to gain maximum benefit from the drama curriculum. This cyclic process of learning, assessment, identifying individual needs, evaluating teaching strategies, and planning future learning experiences is central to effective teaching and learning.
The role of assessment: why assess?
Assessment can help the teacher to monitor children’s learning and development through drama. It provides the teacher with the means of identifying the needs of individual children and enables him/her to create the drama contexts and to modify curriculum content in order to facilitate effective learning. Used like this, assessment has a formative role to play in children’s development.
In using assessment for formative purposes, the teacher can build a cumulative picture of children’s development through the three strand units of the drama curriculum. This will contribute to the child’s overall developmental profile and can form a basis for reporting to teachers, parents and others. This is the summative use of assessment. The teacher can also use assessment to evaluate his/her mediation of the drama curriculum to the children. This involves monitoring the effectiveness and balance of curriculum content and the different strategies, contexts and resources employed to advance the development of the child. In this way assessment is used evaluatively and contributes to providing the most effective learning experiences for the child.
Assessment in the drama curriculum: what should be assessed?
Assessment in drama is concerned with monitoring the development of the children’s drama skills and concepts and the success with which they learn through an engagement with the three strand units of the curriculum. This entails a consideration of both the drama objectives and the learning objectives inherent in the content.
Exploring and making drama
In this strand unit the teacher will, in the first place, assess how successfully the child has preserved the impulse for make-believe play and is able to bring belief and spontaneity to the drama. This will manifest itself in the extent to which he/she enters into a role or a character and develops it in the context of the action. It will also be apparent in the way the child uses place and space to build the context of the drama and understands, and explores the element of time in bringing depth and believability to it. The teacher will also monitor the way children adhere to the ‘playing rules’ that help to maintain focus in the dramatic action and enhance dramatic activity by including the element of tension. As they become more experienced in the drama process, their ease and facility in using scripts and their ability to distinguish between different genres and to explore meaning through them will be other indicators of the effectiveness of the child’s learning through drama.
Reflecting on drama
Reflection is an essential part of the drama process. This takes place both during the drama activity itself and through discussion and other activities after the drama activity is over. The success of the children’s reflection will be seen in the extent to which they use it to create alternative courses for the action that reflect the issues bring examined and in their ability to recognise the relationship between story, theme and life experience. The quality of the insights they gain from the drama experience, and the extent to which they can reach conclusions from it and are able to hypothesise in a more general way about people and life, will also indicate the success of their learning through drama.
Co-operating and communicating in making drama
The ability to co-operate and communicate with others, both in and out of role, is central to the child’s experience of the drama. This will be seen in his/her ability to contribute to the shaping of the drama, both in discussion about it and as the action takes place. It will also be seen in the success with which the child develops fictional relationships through interaction with the other characters as the drama progresses. In enacting scenes for other members of the class with spontaneity and without self-consciousness, children will show another aspect of their ability to co-operate and communicate through drama.
Assessment tools: how to assess
The above range of learning activity presupposes the use of appropriate assessment tools. Those most suitable to drama are:
teacher-designed tasks and tests
work samples, portfolios and projects
This is the form of assessment most consistently used by teachers and the most effective in relation to children’s engagement with drama. It involves the informal monitoring of children’s progress as the drama process takes place. In observing the varying degrees of success with which children acquire drama skills and concepts and learn through the drama process, the teacher can adjust his/her methods and approaches and modify the drama contexts in order to maximise its learning benefits for individual children.
Much of this observation is concerned with detailed and immediate drama activity and is unrecorded. However, it can be useful to make brief notes from time to time about particular learning requirements. This can be a further help to the teacher in taking account of the progress of the class, a group or an individual at any particular juncture, and can inform his/her planning of short-term and long-term drama approaches.
Teacher-designed tasks and tests
A further dimension of this type of continuous assessment is the monitoring of children’s performance in various tasks arising from their engagement with the drama. These arise continually in the course of drama activity, as, for example, when a pair of children is asked to play two characters in order to explore a particular issue, or a group of children is asked to work together to solve some problem or to arrive at a decision about the course the drama should take. The assessment of children’s ability to perform particular tasks such as these will to a great extent involve teacher observation in a way that is focused on a particular aspect of children’s engagement with drama.
Work samples, portfolios and projects
In drama these would be made up of writing, art work and other examples of children’s response to, reflection on, and extension of their drama experience. For assessment purposes, a representative sample of a child’s work that includes some of the best examples would be of greatest use. Decisions about what might be included will be made variously by the teacher, by the child and the teacher together, and by children in consultation with each other. In this way a valuable dimension of selfassessment will be given to the assessment of the child’s progress in drama and in learning through drama.
The question of manageability will be a significant factor in deciding how much of the child’s work might be included, although in drama this will be less problematical, since the portfolio will consist mainly of items in written form. However, since the child will have similar portfolios in other areas of the curriculum, the question of storage will arise. Obviously, circumstances will vary from school to school, and the nature, size and management of portfolios will be a factor in school planning.
Curriculum profiles in drama
The teacher’s continuous informal observation of children’s progress can be structured more formally through the use of curriculum profiles in drama. These entail short descriptive statements of pupils’ achievements, behaviour and attitudes in relation to drama and to learning through drama. They may be standardised for different levels of competence and used to check children’s individual ability in relation to each of the statements. In the case of drama they would reflect children’s progress in relation to aspects of the three strand units, enable the teacher to construct a learning profile of each individual child, and create a reference record of his/her progress.
Recording and communicating
By using the appropriate selection of the different assessment tools, the teacher can monitor the children’s progress in drama and their learning through drama. If this monitoring process is to be effective it is important that the teacher adopts a method of recording the relevant information in an accessible form that is compatible with the assessment of other are as of the curriculum. This will facilitate continuous communication with the principal, with other members of the staff, and with parents. It will also assist the teacher in eliciting responses from parents that will enable him/her to plan more effectively the drama programme for individual children .
Pupil profile cards
Over a period the teacher can construct a comprehensive profile that would constitute a summative record of an individual child’s progress in drama. This could be adjusted and updated regularly. It could help determine long-term learning strategies and ensure consistency in the child’s development from year to year. It would also contribute to a cumulative assessment of the child and facilitate communication with parents and other agencies.